We need to talk about pain during IUD fittings

·4-min read
Photo credit: Jean-Bernard Nadeau/Stéphane Labaurie - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jean-Bernard Nadeau/Stéphane Labaurie - Getty Images

Thousands of women and people with uterus' are speaking out about the pain they experienced while having an IUD (intrauterine device) fitted - a long-lasting and reversible method of contraception. It sees a small T-shaped device inserted into the womb and can last for up to ten years, is 99% effective and can be removed at any time by a trained professional.

While there are plenty of women - myself included - who've had an IUD fitted and would describe the experience as 'not in my top ten, but on the whole nothing more than briefly uncomfortable', others have made it clear their experience was rather different. So much so, that a petition (set up by entrepreneur Lucy Cohen), calling for better pain relief options to be offered, has already gained 24,000 signatures.

The rally cry is also asking for patients to be given more information about what having an IUD inserted and removes actually involves, so that they may make a more informed choice about whether or not to go ahead with the procedure. Currently, the NHS website says "it can be uncomfortable when the IUD is put in, but you can take painkillers after if you need to".

Cohen, who created the petition, said that when 1,500 respondents were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10, 43% of people scored their pain when having an IUD fitted as a 7 or above, with the associated descriptions being:

  • Extremely painful

  • Almost unbearable

  • Excruciating

  • Several people reported the pain as worse than childbirth or broken bones

Photo credit: Mariakray - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mariakray - Getty Images

Wanting to learn more, Cosmopolitan spoke to Dr Shree Datta, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Lister Hospital (part of HCA UK), to ask why pain during an IUD fitting varies from person to person, and what pain relief she'd advise.

Dr Datta explains that it’s normal to feel some form mild to moderate cramping during and after coil insertion, similar to period pains, "The pain is usually felt when the practitioner is inserting the IUD past the cervix and into the womb. Most people find the pain tolerable as it is short lived due to the short length of the procedure." However, she adds, if the pain you are experiencing is making you feel lightheaded, faint, nauseous or tearful during the procedure, let the doctor or nurse fitting the IUD know immediately.

"Pain is subjective and can vary from person to person, however there are some factors to consider when thinking about what level of pain you might experience during an IUD fitting," Dr Datta continues. "For example, if you have previously had a coil or given birth vaginally, it’s likely you will experience less discomfort compared to someone who hasn’t."

She adds that anxiety and stress can also affect how we feel pain, so it’s important to talk the procedure through with a medical professional beforehand to fully understand the fitting and for additional reassurance.

"Before your IUD fitting, you can take some over-the-counter pain killers such as paracetamol or Ibuprofen to help ease any discomfort you may feel during and/or after the procedure," Dr Datta also notes. "If you’ve experienced pain during vaginal examinations - such as a smear test - and you’re concerned about the procedure, let your doctor know beforehand. They will then discuss pain relief options with you, and can offer you a local anaesthetic."

It's also recommended that you eat something light 2 hours before the procedure and keep the rest of the day relatively stress-free, so that you're not rushing around too much. "It’s normal for some cramping to continue after your fitting for some time, and you might experience some spotting or light bleeding," Dr Datta says. "Following your fitting, if you experience continued pain or heavy bleeding, contact the doctor who inserted the IUD."

It's also important to reach out to your doctor if you develop a fever in the days after the procedure, or a change in the nature or smell of your vaginal discharge, as this could be a sign of an infection and you may need antibiotics.

For more information on contraceptive options, visit The Lowdown – the UK’s first dedicated private contraception consultation and a virtual prescriptions service, created to help women choose and access the right contraception for them.

See here to sign the petition calling for better pain relief options during an IUD fitting or removal.


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